How to Cultivate Better Eating Habits
When unexpected changes disrupt our lives, it can be difficult to maintain our usual routines, we’d like to help you learn how to cultivate better eating habits in times of crisis.
What does your self-talk sound like when you look in the mirror, when you step on a scale, or while you’re eating lunch? Are you kind and rational with yourself, or are you harsh, mean, and judgemental?
If you’re someone who does the latter, you’re not alone. The National Science Foundation found that the average person has between 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Depending on how in-tune you are with your internal monologue, it may not come to a surprise that around 80% of those thoughts are labeled as “negative.” Worse yet, 90% of those thoughts are repetitive.
Unfortunately, in this day and age, we are constantly inundated with an overwhelming amount of information surrounding food and nutrition, coming from organizations on all sides of the spectrum with varying agendas.
When you couple information overload with unrealistic beauty standards surrounding body image (think Instagram influencers, models, celebrities, etc.), it causes a wide range of adverse emotions and behaviors such as negative self-talk and over/under eating to cope with the stress and shame.
Deep down, you know that this self-criticism is likely false, but before you know it, years have gone by while these destructive thoughts and habits continue or worsen. Oftentimes, we wait for new year resolutions or for the next “Monday” to take action against our poor self-esteem because we can procrastinate the possibility of failing. But it doesn’t have to be this way. You (yes, you) can take baby steps each day (starting now) to improve your self-talk, your eating habits, and your life with the following tips.
Change Your Eating Attitude
The way we talk to ourselves determines our self-esteem, just as the meaning we give things changes our perspective. Cleveland Clinic psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD, proves this statement by using a dandelion as an example. She says, “If you describe it as a flower, you’re going to pick it up, put it in a vase, and treat it nicely. If you describe it as a weed, you’re going to stomp on it and not value it. It’s the same for ourselves.”
The way you talk about and view yourself, your body, and food yields the same impact. If you look at your body in the mirror and thoughts are only negative, the chances are high that you will treat your body and eating habits accordingly.
However, imagine what would happen if you chose to look at yourself in the mirror and focus on all of your favorite traits and all of the things your body allows you to do every day (walk, talk, see, smell, breathe, think, love, feel, etc.). You may just find over time that you want to eat healthier, more nutritious foods and put the time and effort into exercising regularly out of genuine care and appreciation for your body.
Focus on Adding Instead of Taking Away
A staggering 52% of Americans polled in a 2012 Food & Health surve believe that doing their taxes is easier than improving their diet! If you can relate, don’t fret– learning how to eat healthier is easier than you may think. A great place to start when learning how to change your diet and eating habits is to focus on adding nutritious food into your already existing diet instead of dwelling on the idea that you have to cut out the foods you love entirely.
For example, if your family likes to have pizza on Friday nights, try adding more green toppings such as broccoli or spinach to your order and add a side salad. By doing this, you’re still eating the foods you love without feeling anxious or left out when the rest of your family is enjoying a delicious pizza. You may even find that incorporating more veggies and adding a side salad will fill you up more quickly—making that second or third serving undesirable.
By making minor tweaks one by one, you’re allowing yourself to ease into actually loving nutritious whole foods gradually over time. Don’t be surprised if you begin to notice the difference in how you feel both physically and mentally after eating clean versus after indulging in those not-so-healthy, processed foods. Over time, your goal should evolve towards eating clean and nutritious foods 80% of the time and indulging in “comfort-food” 20% of the time.
Know Your Resources
Have you ever tried a fad diet but were unsuccessful in following through? The reason why it’s so difficult to maintain a “diet” is that most of them involve adopting an all-or-nothing mindset. The Keto diet, for example, entails avoiding foods like nuts, legumes, rice, pasta, oatmeal, and the occasional sweet treat altogether.
That’s like trying to kick a smoking habit cold turkey. Unless there’s a pressing health concern that requires you to quit smoking abruptly, or similarly, make drastic changes to your diet immediately, you’re more likely to find long-term success by letting go of that all-or-nothing mindset and welcoming flexibility. Lasting results will come as you transition into living in that 80/20 rule mentioned previously.
If the idea of making these changes scares you or stresses you out, don’t give up! There are plenty of resources accessible to you that will help guide you step-by-step as you learn to develop a new lifestyle. When searching for a nutrition aid or an educational weight loss program, look for something that will not only teach you new healthy recipes but will also allow you to still make some room for the foods you love without feeling guilty.
Photo by Asya Vlasova from Pexels
Master Mindful Eating
You have probably seen the phrase “mindful eating” thrown around a lot, but what does it really mean? According to Healthline, “Mindful eating is about using mindfulness to reach a state of full attention to your experiences, cravings, and physical cues when eating.”
In other words, mindful eating involves eating slowly without distraction (turn the TV off and put your phone away). This way, you are more in tune with your senses so you only eat until you’re satisfied. Through mindful eating, you will notice your desire to eat to maintain optimal health and overall well being rather than to suppress emotions.
Think about your current eating habits and answer the following questions:
Has eating become a mindless act for you? Are you simultaneously watching TV or scrolling through your phone? Do you get up for seconds before really analyzing how you feel? Are you finished with your meal within minutes? Did you know that it takes your brain around 20 minutes to register the fact that you’re full?
If you are eating too fast, getting up for seconds too quickly, and are distracted by other things while eating, you may be eating more than you actually need. Mindful eating forces you to slow down and change your eating habits from automatic to an intentional and satisfying act, no matter the meal.
Rebuild Your Routine and Food habits
Take the time to consider your current routine and pay attention to any patterns that may come up. Do you find yourself craving unhealthy foods at certain times of the day or after eating specific foods? Are you used to cracking open a can of soda with your dinner?
Maybe you’ve made a habit out of grabbing a quick order of fast food for lunch instead of taking the time to prepare a healthy meal to bring with you. Once you’ve made a note of these habits, think about all of the ways you can make small but impactful changes.
For example, you can find a healthier alternative that still satisfies cravings (think flavored seltzer water instead of soda or a couple of pieces of dark chocolate instead of grabbing sweets out of your coworkers candy jar).
Do you find that when you’re met with stressful situations, you tend to crave something unhealthy or get a strong urge to numb your stress by overindulging in comfort foods? Each time you notice yourself stressed out and ready to give in to your bad habit, try your hardest to replace that action with something healthier. For instance, get up and go for a quick walk or fill up your water bottle instead of trying to find salvation in the office vending machine.
Cultivating healthier eating habits starts with baby steps in the right direction. Don’t expect to completely change overnight, and make a point to be patient and forgiving with yourself if you do give in to a bad habit. Remember to start by changing your “eating attitude,” adding more nutrients to your current meals instead of taking anything away, asking for help, and paying close attention to the unhealthy patterns in your current daily routine.
With time, patience, self-compassion, and discipline, you’ll find that cultivating better habits isn’t as hard as it may seem!
Also read: Track Your Healthy Self-Care Habits. Get to Know Them!
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